South Africa's season ended as abruptly as everyone's else's, with their three-match ODI series in India suspended after one washed-out game, and the domestic competitions abandoned at the crunch stage, to bring the curtain down on their most tumultuous summer since readmission.
In 2019-20, the South Africa men's team fielded no fewer than 33 players across all formats, with nine Test debutants, six new ODI players and four maiden T20I caps. At the same time, almost everything about the way cricket is run in this country has hinged on uncertainty. Senior positions, such as that of Cricket South Africa's (CSA) CEO and the director of cricket, are still being held in an acting capacity, and even though the tension between CSA and the South African Cricketers' Association (SACA) has eased, there is no clarity about what next season will look like.
South African cricket will use the winter to reset and reflect on the gains and losses from a frantic last six months. ESPNcricinfo sums them up for you here.
A deeper player pool
South Africa's selectors cast their net as wide as possible and provided opportunities to a wide range of players. By doing that, they've found that the resource base is not as rickety as initially thought. In Test cricket, Rassie van der Dussen established himself as a reliable middle-order presence while Anrich Nortje secured a spot as one of the frontline seamers, in ODIs Heinrich Klaasen, Kyle Verreynne and Jon-Jon Smuts showed their potential as candidates for the 2023 World Cup and, in T20Is, Temba Bavuma demonstrated an ability to switch gears. This summer showed that South Africa's domestic system, however ragged it appears, is still producing players that can make the step-up to the international stage and can be trusted as a feeder system for the national side.
Quinton de Kock's captaincy step-up
Six years ago, when Graeme Smith stood down after leading the Test side for more than a decade, South Africa were unprepared. They rotated through Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers before landing on Faf du Plessis, but seemed equally unready for du Plessis' departure. In white-ball formats, Quinton de Kock has taken to the treble role of captaining, opening the batting and keeping wicket with relative ease. De Kock's on-field presence is commanding, with bat in hand or when issuing instructions, and his form as South Africa's highest Test run-scorer in the season may suggest he is up for the red-ball role as well. The only sticking point is that it may require him to give up the gloves, something de Kock is adamant he does not want to do.
A new pace pack
Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander were the last links to South Africa's previous pack (after Morne Morkel retired in 2018 and the rest went Kolpak) but their injury struggles meant South Africa were at pains to find a new attack. In Nortje and Lungi Ngidi, they have the foundations. Both have recovered from injuries and came through the season with strong results. Nortje was the leading wicket-taker across all formats and particularly impressed with his pace which was often in the higher 140kph range, while Ngidi's ODI form showed his varied skill set, which includes pace off the ball and the temperament to bowl at the death. Workload management is always an issue with fast bowlers and they will need to be handled carefully in future but, if done well, both could become stalwarts of the new era.
Former player involvement
Mark Boucher's appointment as national coach, along with a support staff including Jacques Kallis and Charl Langeveldtl, was hailed as a victory for the current crop of players because of the extensive experience they bring to the set-up but the South African system as a whole, too, have seen former players return to the fold. Four of the six franchise coaches are former internationals - Ashwell Prince (Cobras), Robin Peterson (Warriors), Imraan Khan (Dolphins) and Allan Donald (to start with the Knights in April) - while Paul Harris, Jacques Rudolph, and Hashim Amla have all been involved in consultancy roles of some description. At a time when South African cricket needs to call on as much expertise as it can, keeping former players close is a priority and, so far, CSA has got it right.
Kagiso Rabada's form
Whether to impetuousness or injury, the leader of South Africa's attack, Kagiso Rabada, had a disappointing 2019-20 season. He endured his leanest Test season since debuting, with just 21 wickets in six Tests at 32.05, the first time his bowling average has peeped over 30. Besides, he was suspended from the final Test against England after an accumulation of demerit points and ended his season with a groin injury. Is the burden of being the poster boy becoming too much for Rabada or is he simply finding other interests, like music and the NBA? Either way, he is too good a player for South Africa not to pay attention to and they need to work with him to get him back to his best.
Calling it a day
Hashim Amla and JP Duminy called time on their careers before this season while Steyn stepped away from Tests and Imran Tahir is now available only for T20 cricket, and South Africa had to deal with more retirements as the season wore on. Vernon Philander played his last Test series against England, leaving South Africa without a bowler with the subtle ability to move the ball off the seam, while several domestic veterans also decided to call it a day. Rory Kleinveldt, Farhaan Behardien and Andrew Birch played their last matches for the Cobras, Titans and Warriors respectively, which may not mean much for international cricket, but strips the domestic circuit of a layer of experience essential for knowledge transfer. While Behardien signed a Kolpak deal, Kleinveldt and Birch could be convinced to become involved with local teams.
The transformation fight
With a past as polarised as South Africa's, it is inevitable that there is still much grappling over race issues but matters came to a head during the England series when the country's only black African Test batsman Bavuma was left out of the New Year's Test. Bavuma had averaged less than 20 in 2019, so his omission was justified but the message from the team camp which went along the lines of, "We don't see colour," was badly received. It didn't help that the messenger, du Plessis, went through a period of poor form that attracted severe criticism. Bavuma was recalled but the bigger debate, about the slow pace of change, remains.
The withdrawal of major sponsor Standard Bank and a second summer of running the Mzansi Super League (MSL) without a broadcast deal has left CSA financially flailing. Corporate backers may be lured back in once the fate of suspended CEO Thabang Moroe is known, but the future of the MSL remains uncertain. At the same time, CSA needs to find a way to fund the six franchises, all of whom are dependent on the mother body, and the 13 provincial unions as well as put money into the women's game and development cricket.